Average teenager Peter Parker is transformed into an extraordinary super hero after he is accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider. When his beloved uncle is savagely murdered during a robbery, young Peter vows to use his powers to avenge his death. Deeming himself "Spider-Man", he sets about ridding the streets of crime, bringing him into conflict with malevolent super-villain "Green Goblin."
Marvel Comics fans have been waiting for this big-screen Spider-Man
since the character made his print debut in 1962, which attaches impossible expectations to a film that rates as a solid success without breaking out of the spandex ghetto in the way that Batman Returns
did. Tobey Maguire is ideally cast as speccy Peter Parker, a high school swot with personal problems. The suit and effects take over when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered (i.e., no longer radioactive) spider and transforms into a web-swinging superhero who finds that these super-powers don't really help him get close to the girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) or protect his elderly guardian (Cliff Robertson) from random violence. The villain of the piece is Peter's best friend's industrialist father (Willem Dafoe) who has dosed himself on an experimental serum which makes him go all Jekyll-and-Hyde and emerge as the cackling Green Goblin, who soon gets a grudge against Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi gives it all a bright, airy, kinetic feel, with wonderful aerial stuff as Spider-Man escapes from his troubles by swinging between skyscrapers, and the rethink of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's origin story is managed with a canny mix of faithfulness (JK Simmons' as the crass editor JJ Jameson is the image of the comic character) and send-up (after a big introduction, Spider-Man finally appears in a really rubbish first attempt at a spider costume). Maguire and the impossibly sweet Dunst make it work as a hesitant teen romance, but somehow the second half, which brings on the villain to give the hero someone to fight, is only exciting when it wants to be affecting too. --Kim Newman